City says “No” to civilized wine bar

Editor’s Note:

This story first appeared in the post, headlined City Council briefly... on Tuesday evening and has now been posted separately given intense public interest in the issue and its ultimate outcome. Benoit Doucet, the man who wants to open the wine bar on East Second Street is not going down without a fight.

By David F. Rooney

City Councillors, reluctant to buck a petition with 110 names on it, voted against granting a liquor licence to a wine bar planned for Second Street East on Tuesday.

“It’s a great concept but that’s not what we are being asked to decide,” Councillor Peter Frew said as he explained why he was reluctantly voting against a licence for Benoit’s Wine Bar, which is being built in the old Spice O’ Life space at 107 Second Street East.

Frew said he was troubled by the fact that the licence would allow the owner of the bar to change it from a wine bar to one that serves hard liquor and beer any time he wanted.

Other Councillors also suggested that was problematic during a discussion that was overshadowed by a 100-signature petition initiated by Antonietta Crisanti. In her petition she claimed her concerns “of another ‘BAR’ in town is as follows:

  1. “The noise and especially late at night — This will be year round and What are the hours of this business?
  2. “Property damage
  3. “The garbage that will be left in the streets, concerns of cigarette butts and a possible fire
  4. “Parking is another concern, where do the patrons plan on parking? (there is limited parking at this time downtown)”

Councillors Chris Johnston and Steve Bender supported the licence application with Johnston, who lives a block away saying adults over 25 who want a civilized evening out don’t have many options.

“I think this is a different market (that the usual pub and bar crowd),” he said.

Mrs. Crisanti’s claims to the contrary, Benoit’s Wine Bar could have offered those people a place to go for a glass of wine without putting up with the gong shows you occasionally find at some of the city’s seven other regular pubs and bars where beer and hard liquor are the mainstays. As for parking, a City report noted there is adequate parking in the area. In fact, there’s plenty of it in the City-owned parking lot a block away on First Street East and the report also noted that the bar, which would have a maximum capacity of 60 people  “would not negatively affect traffic patterns.”

The petitioners’ claims to the contrary, no one in the RCMP, the Fire Department, Public Works or Bylaw Enforcement expressed any concerns about the wine bar proposal.

And why should they? As Ardelle Hynes noted in a letter to the City supporting the wine bar, “concerns about rowdiness are misplaced I think as a bar offering wine starting at $6 a glass appeals to a different demographic than a pub offering $12 pitchers of beer.”

For his part, Bender said shooting down the application could be viewed as a discouragement for other new businesses.

Mayor David Raven agrees, saying that it was “a tough decision” for Council that “will be sending a funny message” to potential business owners. Even so, he said he “wasn’t swayed by it being a high-brow wine bar” and wondered if it would “bring more social ills” to the city.